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Succession planning: Running the career relay race

Getting the right blend of employees for your work landscape can be difficult. Just as soon as you have your bases covered, you should start looking to cover the needs of tomorrow. Succession planning, especially during turbulent times like COVID-19, should be high on the priority list of any organisation to keep your organisation fully functional.

Employees rarely stay at a company for a considerable period of time. There can be a lot of opportunities available to lure your best and brightest to other organisations where they might gain a new skillset. When your talent management plans include transparent and open communication about succession opportunities, you are showing your employees that you are willing to invest in them for the long term. This commitment speaks volumes about your company and its valued.

6 steps to successful succession planning

Here are six simple steps get the most value from your leadership teams as you gently navigate the best way to pass the baton:

1. A constant cycle

Unfortunately, the timelines for succession are no longer as lengthy or predictable as it once was. With workplace longevity sometimes seen as a flaw on someone’s CV, employees are motivated to move to new companies regularly. This means that every position is vulnerable to unexpected changes. To ensure the consistent productivity of an organisation, your talent management strategy should be a continuous process.

Resist the urge to delay succession planning until it is necessary. If you wait too long, your options for upskilling within the company become limited and you could have to look at outside candidates. This can be a lengthy and costly decision that might be rejected by the rest of your company.

A simple way to start your succession strategy is to  look at ways to create an overlap in various key skilled areas so you can function with minimal fuss when employees take holidays, need a sabbatical or leave for a new role.

2. Evaluate what you have

Bridge future skills gaps by grooming the right talent early on. To know what you need, you should know what you already have. This takes honest and thoughtful evaluation of your employees.

You can make this process simpler and more inclusive by asking employees to do a self-evaluation of their skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Managers can then do a ranking of these assessments, so you have an honest inventory of the potential that is waiting to be used more effectively. 

Next, your succession talent strategy can begin to evaluate which skills and talents can be upskilled or trained from within your organisation and which might need to be brought in from another source. Try to be as realistic about the experiences that will benefit your company and make sure they are attainable. Looking for a leadership executive with a minimum of 15 years’ experience, speaks six language, and is under the age of 35 is going to be a real tough find.

3. Tell your team

As an employee retention strategy, developing talent from within your company can make absolute sense for succession planning. Your employees are already well-orientated on the operations of the company, they understand what is required of them, and there is a much quicker turnaround time in getting them fully engaged in a new role. It can also boost the morale of your workforce when  career progression becomes part of your business’ DNA.

Take some time to sit down with key employees and talk about what their career goals are and where they want to grow. You should have complete transparency about what is possible in terms of professional growth and a concise plan on how you foresee the development being executed. If you over-promise things that won’t come to fruition, you will lose the trust and respect that you have worked hard to gain from your employees. 

Bear in mind that not every employee wants to be a highly-driven, over-achieving leader, and that’s ok. You want to act as a facilitator of growth and not an aggravator that takes away from a pleasant workplace.

4. Step up professional development efforts

Investing in your employees through various educational opportunities should already be part of your organisation’s talent development. Once you have earmarked candidates whose goals and skills are aligned with your succession strategy, you can ramp up their upskilling quite quickly. 

This is the perfect time to foster mentorship relationships between senior and middle leadership to pass on the knowledge that only comes from experience. These kinds of programmes also impart skills that are unique to your company. Diplomacy, empathy, and teamwork are all softer skills that you want to keep within the company and can be passed down from respected leaders. 

5. Give it a test run

When done with full transparency, business succession planning should include the opportunity for candidates to take on bigger tasks. Testing the waters can help you assess where the gaps are in training and give ‘successors’ an idea of what senior leadership is like. 

When a manager goes on holiday, you can have junior management step into the role to gain experience. If you’re well organised, you can create a development domino effect where senior leaders taking time off for their professional development training (like the Executive Development Programme) allow other staff to stretch their skills while covering a gap. This can build leadership talent throughout your organisation.

6. Integrate your plan into hiring and retention packages

Succession planning processes should be highlighted during the hiring phase so potential employees know that you are willing to invest in them for the long term. Retaining employees with high potential isn’t easy. Additional perks like career development will keep them loyal to your company and  less likely to seek other opportunities.

For senior leadership, a strong retention package will incentivise them to stay and be a part of the succession process. You want to keep both parties engaged for as long as you can. Building this strategy into the bones of your company will keep talent development and succession management running effectively and effortlessly. 

Conclusion

The future is uncertain. Now is the time to ensure your business has a strong succession planning strategy built into its DNA. Sending emerging leadership on a Project Management course, for example, could instil some critical time and resource management skills that’ll stand people in good stead as they step into more senior shoes.

With all the discussion of the future successors, remember to keep yourself in the running too. As a key leader in your organisation, you want to create a plan for your own successor and build a purposeful next stepping stone for your development.

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